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Will dockless bikes and scooters take over city sidewalks?

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Scooter company Bird promotes a “Save our Sidewalks” pledge to reduce vehicle clutter

A man rides a LimeBike in Farragut Square in Washington, DC September 20, 2017.
AFP/Getty Images

As dockless bikeshare and now electric scooter systems continue to expand in cities across the United States, many riders and local officials wonder whether our sidewalks can handle the influx of new vehicles.

Dallas, which now has the nation’s largest dockless bikeshare fleet with more than 18,000 vehicles, has residents and city council members pushing back against the flood of bikes. In Seattle, the city government is testing designated dockless parking spots to try and avoid sidewalks cluttered with bikes.

Bird, the Santa Monica, California-based electric scooter company rapidly expanding in west LA, believes transit companies should take the lead in solving the problem.

This morning, the company’s CEO, Travis VanderZanden, introduced the Save Our Sidewalks (S.O.S.) Pledge, a plan he hopes other scooter- and bike-sharing companies adopt to avoid overcrowding and abandoned vehicles. His letter to competitors, such as LimeBike, Ofo, Mobike, and Jump, raised the specter of Chinese cities, where the explosion in dockless bikeshare led to “bike graveyards” of abandoned vehicles.

Bird

The pledge features three main pillars. First, operators will pick up vehicles every night, to inspect and repair as well as reposition to avoid cluttering. Second, operators will follow a sustainable growth model, and only keep vehicles on the road if they are being used at least three times a day, weather permitting. Companies will also share utilization data with cities to verify these stats. Finally, companies will remit $1 per vehicle per day to city governments to build more bike lanes, promote safe riding, and maintain shared infrastructure.

“We need to lead not just on technology, but on social responsibility,” VanderZanden wrote. “We hope that all of you join us in this S.O.S. Pledge to help our cities thrive.”

Bird has had its own run-ins with city officials. In December, the city of Santa Monica filed a criminal case against the company, accusing it of operating without proper permits and owing more than $6,000 in fines, accrued in part from riders using city sidewalks. Bird later agreed to pay more than $300,000 as part of a settlement with the city.

The S.O.S. plan, an effort to promote more transparency and corporate responsibility, comes at a time when transportation companies are under scrutiny for data-sharing, safety, and corporate responsibility. Ride-hailing apps are being asked about transportation data, Chicago is taxing Uber and Lyft rides to fund transportation upgrades, while other cities are trialing programs, such as designated drop-off spots, to help avoid congestion and help steer the development and adoption of new technologies.

It also comes at a time of continued growth for dockless vehicles and bikeshare, which doesn’t show signs of slowing. Millions of dollars have been invested in various biking and mobility startups, and cities have responded with a spectrum of regulations, from outright bans to capping the number of dockless bikes allowed in certain markets.

Limebike recently launched its own scooter system in San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., while Bird, which has provided more than half a million rides since launching in September, just announced it will be expanding into San Francisco, San Jose, California, and Washington, D.C.